Christian Yoga Part 1
Is this all there is?
How many of us have at some time reached a point in life where we ask, “Is this all there is – this depression, this labouring on and on, this struggle, this emptiness at the end of even a rich life? Do we do everything that we do only to have all wiped out in death?”
The early Christians said they had found the doorway to eternal life. They also demonstrated extraordinary healings of body and mind. Having talked this over with a number of my peers, it has become obvious that there are a few set responses to this in the modern mind. A few people believe, for instance, that perhaps those things happened 2000 years ago, but those were extraordinary people, and they can’t happen in today’s world. Others believe that those stories are a sort of folklore or mythology, and must be seen in that light. Many believe the statements are pure exaggeration made by people who were religious zealots.
Most of us have heard of Albert Schweitzer who went to the Belgian Congo in Africa to start a hospital. The native people who came to him for help at first were very resistant to his ‘magic’ as they thought of it. One of his first patients was a tribesman suffering from appendicitis. Schweitzer anaesthetized the man, cut him open, took out his appendix, sewed him up again and revived him. All this was done in an old converted chicken house that Schweitzer was using as his operating theatre. Other tribespeople and the man’s relatives were watching the operation through doors and holes in the roof. They carried the news far and wide that Schweitzer had killed the man, cut him open and removed his innards, then sewed him up and brought him back to life. He was seen as a miracle worker.
I tell this story because it illustrates the enormous difference in perspective of those tribespeople and of our own. Describing the event as a miracle and as a resurrection does not in any way change the fact of Schweitzer’s operation on that man. Neither do the gospel descriptions mean those events did not happen simply because we would not describe them in that way. It is only in very recent years that the medical profession as a whole has acknowledged the link between the mind, emotions, and physical illness. At one time illness was never seen as emerging from stress or grief. Dealing with these torturous emotions can bring about remarkable physical change. Although I have quoted this elsewhere, the following story is worth repeating because it illustrates this so well:
Many years ago a woman who could hardly walk came to stay with my wife and me. She hobbled along using two sticks. Within a week, without any treatment, she could walk normally. She told us with great enthusiasm that she now knew what had caused her illness. Three years previously her son had married and had asked if he and his new wife could lodge in his parent’s house for a few weeks while they looked for a house of their own. His mother felt resentful that he and his wife had stayed for years and made no effort to move out. But being a Christian woman she kept her feelings to herself. She ended the story by saying, “Being on holiday away from the situation has allowed me to be free of the resentment, and this has healed my legs. So I know what I am going to do when I get home. I am going to tell my son and his wife to pack their things and move out.”
Taking the path of Christian Yoga can lead to healing of the mind and body. But perhaps even more important than that, it can lead to the discovery of what at the moment is only a potential within you. Also, it promises a spiritual life in which you transcend death.
Those are heady claims, and therefore need to be looked at in terms of modern language.
In Christian terminology the word Spirit is used to describe the source of healing and the spring from which the sense of eternal life arises. It is therefore helpful to have some grasp of what this word means in a way we might be able to observe in our daily life. This is said because Christian Yoga is not about things we cannot see or experience in our ordinary everyday life. We do not need to believe in the strange or occult, or even to accept things on someone else’s say so.
Who are you really?
For most agnostics any talk about the eternal in our obviously short spanned life is a sign of mental weakness. They perhaps say, “Point it out to me.” The strange thing is that it is easy to see, but it is usually discounted. For instance, what is it you most closely identify as yourself? Is it your body? Is your body you?
People can lose an arm, both legs, even mobility, but they still have a clear sense of themselves, of being a person. Perhaps it is not as easy or as comfortable having no legs, but there is still a strong sense of being a person.
Or maybe you identify with the way you look, your face, your hair or the shape of your body. But this changes with age, sometimes radically, and old people often say, “Although I look in the mirror and the person I see appears incredibly different to how I looked years ago, inside I still feel as if I am about 20 or 30 years old.”
If you identify your body as yourself, then you are faced by the tragedy of enormous change and the certainty of death. Even so, up until the moment of your death your body has been eternal. Think on it. Your body is the result of two living cells merging and subdividing, and subdividing, over and over to form the mature body. But those two original cells have an unbroken line of subdivision right way back to the beginning of life. In that sense you personally have a connection with eternity. Even the material your body uses in its growth was formed in the beginning of the universe, is from the stars, and is uncountable billions of years old. So there is another connection you have with eternity. In fact what is there around you and within you that does not involve eternal existence? However, what we focus on most of the time is the changes taking place within this background of eternity.
Again, this is like identifying your hair, your limbs, or your looks as being you. What Christian Yoga is suggesting is the discovery of the part of you that does not undergo change.
But let us explore this question of what you identify with a little further. Maybe you identify with the way you feel, your emotions, or perhaps your thoughts. But from one moment to the next these are not the same. They are constantly shifting and moving, and undergo more variation than your body. If you identify with your thoughts and emotions you can become lost in their swirling and shifting storm. Believing you are your thoughts or emotions can be at the root of depression and confusion.
Losing an arm or leg, losing your physical beauty in age, may affect your thoughts and feelings, but those things do not in any way deplete your sense of existing. So if your body, your thoughts and emotions are not YOU, then what or who are you? What is it you can most securely identify with? What is it that is not shifting and changing and capable of being lost?
R. D. Laing, in his long poem The Bird of Paradise, said that, “The truth I am trying to grasp is the grasp that is trying to grasp it.”
The problem with recognising your fundamental, and perhaps eternal self, is that you are so immersed in it, like a fish in water, that it is difficult for you to recognise. In the Old Testament the following conversation is reported between Moses and God:
And Moses said unto God, “Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them?”
And God said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM”: and he said, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” (Exodus Book 2 3:13-14)